Filmed in November 1903 at Edison's New York studio, at Essex County Park in New Jersey, and along the Lackawanna railroad and released in December 1903, "The Great Train Robbery" is considered to be one of the first significant early US narrative films. Greatly influenced by the British film "Daring Daylight Robbery" (1903) it introduced many new cinematic techniques (cross cutting, double exposure, camera movement and location shooting) to American audiences. It was directed by Edwin S Porter and stars Justus D. Barnes as the head bandit, G. M. Anderson as a slain passenger and a robber, Walter Cameron as the sheriff.
From the Edison Film Catalogue 1904:
This sensational and highly tragic subject will certainly make a decided `hit' whenever shown. In every respect we consider it absolutely the superior of any moving picture ever made. It has been posed and acted in faithful duplication of the genuine `Hold Ups' made famous by various outlaw bands in the far West, and only recently the East has been shocked by several crimes of the frontier order, which fact will increase the popular interest in this great Headline Attraction.
Scene 1 - Interior of railroad telegraph office. Two masked robbers enter and compel the operator to set the `signal block' to stop the approaching train, also making him write an order to the engineer to take water at this station....
Scene 2 - At the railroad water tank. The bandit band are seen hiding behind the tank as a train stops to take water (according to false order). Just before she pulls out they stealthily board the train between the express car and the tender.
Scene 3 - Interior of express car.... the two robbers have succeeded in effecting an entrance. They enter cautiously. The messenger opens fire on them. A desperate pistol duel takes place, in which the messenger is killed. One of the robbers stands watch while the other tries to open the treasure box. Finding it locked, he searches the messenger for the key. Not finding it, he blows the safe up with dynamite....
Scene 4 - The fight on the tender. This thrilling scene was taken from the mail car showing the tender and interior of locomotive cab, while the train is running forty miles an hour....
Scene 5 - The train uncoupled....
Scene 6 - Exterior of passenger coaches. The bandits compel the passengers to leave coaches with hands aloft, and line up along the tracks. One of the robbers covers them with large pistols in either hand, while the others ransack travelers' pockets. A passenger makes an attempt to escape, but is instantly shot down....
Scene 7 - The escape. The desperadoes board the locomotive with their booty, command the engineer to start his machine, and disappear in the distance.
Scene 8 - Off to the mountains. The robbers bring the engine to a stop several miles from the scene of the `Hold Up,' and take to the mountains.
Scene 9 - A beautiful scene in a valley. The bandits come down the side of a hill on a run and cross a narrow stream. Mounting their horses, which were tied to nearby trees, they vanish into the wilderness.
Scene 10 - Interior of telegraph office. The operator lies bound and gagged on the floor. After a desperate struggle, he succeeds in standing up. Leaning on the table, he telegraphs for assistance by manipulating the key with his chin, and then faints from exhaustion. His little daughter enters.... cuts the ropes, and, throwing a glass of water in his face, restores him to consciousness. Arising in a bewildered manner, he suddenly recalls his thrilling experience, and rushes forth to summon assistance.
Scene 11 - Interior of a dance hall.... typical Western dance house scene.... Suddenly the door opens and the half dead telegraph operator staggers in. The crowd gathers around him, while he relates what has happened.... The men secure their guns and hastily leave in pursuit of the outlaws.
Scene 12 - The posse in pursuit. Shows the robbers dashing down a rugged mountain at a terrible pace, followed closely by a large posse, both parties firing as they proceed. One of the desperadoes is shot....
Scene 13 - The remaining three bandits, thinking they had eluded their pursuers, have dismounted from their horses.... and begin to examine the contents of the mail bags.... The pursuers, having left their horses, steal noiselessly down upon them until they are completely surrounded. A desperate battle then takes place. After a brave stand, all of the robbers and several of the posse bite the dust.
Scene 14 - Realism. Full frame of Barnes, leader of the outlaw band, taking aim and firing point blank at the audience. (This effect was gained by foreshortening in making the picture). "The resulting excitement is great. This section of the scene can be used either to begin the subject or to end it, as the operator may choose.
Remastered, tinted and new soundtrack added in 2010.
November 12, 2010 Subject:
Not just a historical treat
Right off the bat, this little film is a plain and simple treat for history of filmmaking and period shots of interest. The train itself had me clicking replay, and the posse slinking through the trees (in a nice bit of brush, incidentally) was much more evocative than a slew of multiple cuts. But, on top of being interesting on account of age, innovation, blah blah blah-- this is interesting on account of story. It's not very long, and there isn't much plot, but both are exactly enough, and enough corpses occur to balance it all out. A rather nasty robbery goes from commission to retribution, and my popcorn's not cold yet. Yum.